Op-Ed. On Motorized Two-Wheelers in Taiwan (and cities around the world)

Taipei M2Ws at intersection - larger

World Streets has for some years now  pushed hard for the idea of an integrated strategic planning approach and operations plan for the better, safer use of motorized two wheelers in and around cities. This has largely been an uphill struggle.  Not to claim that there have not been innovations and improvements here and there. But for the most part, this creeping problem continues insidiously to take on ever great proportions, while those responsible continue to look elsewhere. We really need to do better than that.

Which is one of the reasons that since 2010 we have insistently solicited articles and references from different countries concerning M2Ws, which you can find here under  https://worldstreets.wordpress.com/tag/m2w/. This op-ed contribution by Dr. Wayne Gao was set off in a discussion which had as its origin a recommendation by the Britton Advisory Mission to Taiwan of 23-30 January, which you can find here 

Wayne Gao on M2Ws in Taiwan

Motorized two wheelers off one of the most difficult challenges in Asian cities of all sizes. But despite this, they remain a largely unexplored territory by planners and policy makers.

There are some local analyses on M2Ws. They may not be as full-fledged as they should be, neither have they taken city transportation characteristics into consideration. So I agree with your important call to have a comprehensive strategic plan on this critical issue in Taiwan. The following points are NOT entirely comments on your work. They are rather my observations on this issue.

  1. Saturated usage of personal vehicle in Taiwan Here are some basic numbers to help us to see the big picture.

There are 14 million M2Ws, 7.2 million cars in Taiwan. The population aged between 18-69 yrs are about 17 million in Taiwan. In terms of households, there are 8.2 million household in Taiwan. This means that there are nearly two M2Ws plus one car per household in Taiwan(in average).

I agree that M2Ws are flexible, convenient for users. However, I am not sure it is space-efficient and cost-effective in Taiwan from a broader point of view. I assume you reckon that M2Ws are space-efficient because they are alternative to cars. However, car usage is quite saturated in Taiwan, especially in big cities. Those who can afford owning a car pretty much have done so given the total number of household and total number of registered car are both about 7, 8 million in Taiwan. Most car owning user/family also owns M2Ws given there are much more M2Ws (14 million) than household (8.2 million).

Nearly, there are two M2Ws per household in Taiwan. So “car owners who are turning increasingly to M2Ws” is probably not the current trend of transportation especially based on the transportation survey from the last few years. Rather, most Taiwanese people/families own and use both car and M2Ws alternatively whenever the situation suits them. The transportation surveys also showed little change on personal vehicle usage (in terms of % of total trips made by private vehicles). This is quite frustrating given there has been a significant growth in public transportation service as we as bike share programs in the last few years.

  1. Industry propaganda

The concern that transportation policies aiming to reduce the density of M2Ws from our streets would inevitably increase car usage and cause congestion is not supported. This argument has repeatedly brought up by the M2Ws industry without solid evidence. BTW, M2Ws is a 1.4 billion USD business with a profit margin about 20-25%% in Taiwan. Petrol-powered M2Ws industry is politically powerful entity who has opposed literally any form of transportation reforms that would undermine their dominant status quo in transportation. The Big Three, YAMAHA, KYMCO and SANYANG, with a market share more than 80%, none of them has gone aggressively for e-scooter/motorbike production and marketing, a greener, slower and safer vehicle. The biggest e-scooter company in Taiwan is actually a car company. The Chunghua Motor Inc., plus many others have about 2-3% market share in M2Ws in Taiwan. Possibly, because there are more regulations and subsidizes to push car industry into developing EVs and to meet CO2 emission regulations imposed on them.

On the contrary, one would think that the traditional petrol-powered M2Ws industry should have been the ideal industry to develop and produce two wheeler EVs but this is not happening. This is a shame given they’ve occupied up to 97% of the M2Ws market in Taiwan. It is estimated that by switching to an e-scooters from a petrol-powered one, up to 90% CO2 emission can be reduced under the same mileage traveled. We are not even talking about other health damaging air pollutants from petrol M2Ws which EVs don’t exhaust directly on the streets where people exposed directly and closely.

  1. What if we minimize M2Ws usage?

If cities in Taiwan are able to minimize M2Ws usage through various policies, rather than more people would turn to driving cars, I reckon it would actually be the best strategy to maximize the usage of the existing public transportation. Given a lot of M2Ws users are young folks, students and non-daily commuters, public transportation would be their second best choice in terms of cost and accessibility.

In Taiwan, making distinction between car and M2Ws users based on income means little since it is a society where literally EVERY adult/household is using M2Ws as a mean of mobility whenever situations suit them. Because it is extremely convenient, users can park literally ANYWHERE with no regulations and parking fees, its door-to-door nature, and the cost largely subsidized, M2Ws is the biggest competitor to walking, biking, and taking public transportation in Taiwan and possibly in many cities in Asia.

  1. The Economics of M2Ws need to reflect true cost of M2Ws usage

The low public transportation usage(about 20-45% of all trips) needs to be changed in Taiwan. Very likely, I argue, it is the enormous usage of M2Ws rather than car, prevents us from being a biking/walking and public transportation dominant society. Simply, as

SK Jason Chang etc. studies clearly show, the cost of using M2Ws is subsidized highest among all other modes of transportation(about 40% of the cost is subsided), including car. Car usage in Taiwan is quite saturated and the cost of car usage imposed more accurately(not enough for sure) and directly onto car users.

I argue that we do have better policies in containing car use endemic (despite not enough). But we literally have no policies even trying to change the current unproductive endemic of M2Ws usage. Just by looking at the fact that even during the rush hours, up to 60-70% of M2Ws remain idle somewhere in the cities occupying precious city spaces that could have been made as proper sidewalk for pedestrians, urban gardens and bike ways for bike commuters.

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These are my quick thoughts. I am working on a proper time-series analysis in a way to respond to your important call for a full-fledged strategic analysis on this important transportation challenge faced beyond Taiwan. I hope you will be so kind to give me comments.

I am also thinking that your excellent work should be translated into Chinese in order to reach out more audience (especially transportation officers) in Taiwan. If you agree, I am willing to help by sending it to a professional translation company and review the accuracy for it. It can also be published at the Taiwan Environmental Information Center and maybe local transportation journals.

Thanks you so much again Eric, for the great works you have done for Taiwan over the years. I really appreciate the opportunity to exchange thoughts with you. It helps me significantly with the projects I am working on now.

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About the author:

Dr. Wayne Gao is a strategic consultant for enterprises specializing in green technologies and well-being business. His interest in all forms of innovation when it comes to green technologies in Wayne Gaotransportation, vegan diet and anything that’s designed for landscape and gardening. He received his Ph.D. from New York University (NYU) and master in public health from National YangMing Medical University. After his seventeenth-year career in public health abroad, including 8 years as Head/ Consultant of GLOBALink at UICC (International Union Against Cancer in Geneva, Switzerland) and 5 years in NYC as a researcher for a public health foundation, he decided it was time for a change and moved back to Taipei, He recently collaborated on a manuscript with a colleague, entitled Our Bike, Our Future – How E-Bike Sharing System Can Transfer Our Way Moving Towards A Sustainable and Healthy Future. He can be contacted at ecokao@yahoo.com

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About the editor:

Eric Britton

9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Trained as a development economist, Eric Britton is a public entrepreneur specializing in the field of sustainability and social justice. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets, his latest work focuses on the subject of equity, economy and efficiency in city transport and public space, and helping governments to ask the right questions — and in the process, find practical solutions to urgent climate, mobility, life quality and job creation issues. More at: http://wp.me/PsKUY-2p7

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